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The Honeymoon Phase is Over… Now What?

A couple who's out of the honeymoon phase relaxed and comfortable on at bench after a hike.

The beginning of the relationship is the easy part. An endless stream of dates, late night talks, good sex—who can complain? But after you get comfortable, a switch flips. It starts with a few hiccups, nothing too big, but soon steam. you start to notice things you didn’t before. Maybe he talks too loud on the phone, or she doesn’t pitch in to clean the kitchen. Then you start to have a few fights or worse, you’re not talking as much or making plans. All of the sudden, the love you felt feels different. It’s changed somehow but you’re not sure what it is. Well,that’s the end of the honeymoon phase. And, yes, it happens to every relationship.

But what does it mean to be in the honeymoon phase, what happens when it’s over, and what comes after?

What the honeymoon phase is:
The honeymoon phase is the bubbly “everything is good” phase that happens at the beginning of a relationship. In this phase, you and your partner are just getting to know each other. No matter how much time you spend together you can’t get enough of each other. Also during this phase, your partner seems perfect in every way. Shortcomings or incompatibilities are simply not possible. Even the annoying things they do are sort of cute and endearing.

And there’s many physiological reasons for this. You’re likely to experience heart palpitations and stomach butterflies. You’ll also experience an increase in cortisol, a hormone that buffers stress, and you’re brain is pumped full of dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure and reward. If you can’t help missing your partner since seeing them four hours ago, know it’s not just you. Everyone feels this way.

Yes, it  does sound a bit like temporary insanity, because, well, it is. But that’s just how it goes. The honeymoon phase usually lasts 6 to 12 months, but it differs from person to person.

What it mean when it’s over:
Honeymoon phases are supposed to be like the honeymoons they’re named after: light, worry free, and full of smoldering passion. Also like honeymoons, when the honeymoon phase ends is when the hard part (i.e. real life) begins.

It’s at this phase that you’ll notice maybe not all is well in paradise. Your partner actually has shortcomings. Their annoying habits begin to annoy you. Maybe you have sex less frequently. This part of the relationship can be beautiful, but if your connection isn’t as strong as you thought or if there are real disagreements that were always brewing under the surface of all that honeymoon passion, now is when it starts to matter.

Sometimes this part of the relationship is called the disillusionment or make-or-break phase. It’s because at this phase, you either realize your partner isn’t someone you’re in love with for the long haul, or where you form a deeper connection and learn to view them as a dynamic, complicated person who may not be perfect but is someone you care deeply about. You may feel a little less infatuated, but closer in a way you didn’t expect. Then again, you may be surprised to find that your love has diminished and you no longer see your partner in the way you once did.

Does the end of the honeymoon phase spell the end for your relationship? Well, that’s up to you.

What happens now:
Some people think the honeymoon phase feeling is love, and when it’s over the love is lost. The truth is that feeling doesn’t last forever for any combination of people. Famous marriage counselor Diane Sollee said, “To get divorced because love has died, is like selling your car because it’s run out of gas.” The honeymoon phase happens to everyone, so does disillusionment. It’s up to you to decide if you want to put in the hard work when the honeymoon phase is over to keep growing the relationship.

This part of the relationship requires cooperation from both parties. It takes you accepting your partner as they are, not the idealized version you perceived when you were high on dopamine. In some cases, you’ll realize that the person you’re with is really not who you are meant to be with, that they’ve exhibit your dealbreakers, and that’s fine. In other cases, you may decide that your partner is worth the work, and it’s time to get down to business. The passionate in love feeling doesn’t last forever, and at some point in every relationship you’ll have to confront this. If you choose to move forward, you can create something beautiful built on commitment and genuine respect for your partner. If you don’t, that’s okay too. You may find someone better suited to your tastes down the road. Just remember this moment will find you in every relationship. That’s just the way things are.

So if you’re honeymoon phase is over, break it off if you think your partner really isn’t the one. But give it a good think first. Love isn’t easy and it doesn’t always look of feel the way you think it does. It’s all about braving the bad as well as enjoying the good. To make your decision think: are you looking for an easy time or are you looking for something deeper?

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